Feb 09, In a letter to the Union environment, forests and climate change minister, senior officials of the ministry under him and their Gujarat counterparts, including chief minister Vijay Rupani, top Vadodara-based environmentalist Rohit Prajapati has demanded that the government must immediately stop translocation of the crocodiles from the lakes near Sardar Sarovar Dam, as the translocation of crocodile is “not a viable/appropriate solution”, and it is short-sighted with long term adverse impacts.
The letter by Prajapati, who heads Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, signed by his colleagues Krishnakant and Swati Desai, also says the translocation is violation of several environment and forest laws, including the Wildlife (Protectio Act, 1972.
Text of the letter:
The Gujarat State Forest Department has started relocating crocodiles from two ponds / impoundments near the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project next to the world’s tallest statue. The purported reason given is “Tourist Safety” but most likely this is being done for the proposed ‘Seaplane Project’.
We strongly believe that translocation of crocodile will cause further problems for this nationally vulnerable Schedule I species and result in multiple issues within the area for different stakeholders, including the concerned authorities.
What necessitates this translocation of the crocodiles from these ponds/impoundments? Who has decided this action, based on what advice or needs? On what scientific and technical bases and supervision this action is undertaken? The drastic and mindless action of the Forest Department will result in destruction and degradation of the habitats of many species and undermine the multiple values and ecological services of nature.
- In absence of unknown number of crocodiles in the present Dyke 3 & 4, it is not possible to claim a crocodile free water body. Moreover, there is also the possibility of crocodiles entering the dykes from adjoining water bodies that are at the distance of 18 – 20 km from the Narmada Dam and main river course.
- Crocodile species have strong homing instinct and it tends to come back in original site. This has been scientifically proved in crocodiles (Read et al. 2007; Campbell et al. 2013), including mugger (Vyas & Bhatt 2004; Vyas 2010).
- Earlier, in 2006, Forest Department, Gujarat had appointed a crocodilian expert for such similar reasons. The expert opinion was that “zero mugger” is not possible for the water body, it is the best site for wildlife tourisms and better to develop for that, only. (See: Basu 2006).
- The government’s decision to incarcerate and relocate crocodiles from their natural habitat is against the principles of ‘The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972’. Especially such an act by the Forest Department which very well knows that this period is the breeding season of the crocodiles raises questions on their role in the management of wildlife and its habitat.
- More significantly, the importance of this species is illustrated by the multiple legal and policy efforts which have been developed by the Government of India to protect the crocodile’s population. This species is categorized as nationally ‘Vulnerable’ subsequent to an assessment following IUCN criteria for threatened species (Molur & Walker 1998) and has the highest legal protection in India as it is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Any activity which is against the survival of the highly protected species without having been approved by the State Wildlife Board and National Wildlife Board and the Government of India is patently illegal. There are established Rules, Regulations, and Policies to be followed before attempting to relocate scheduled species.
The following related observations and points are also critical:
In order to trap the crocodiles, cages have been set up illegally along the banks of the two ponds/impoundments, known as Dyke 3 and 4, which are close to the Tent City. These dykes are artificial water bodies created to stabilise the water released from the Sardar Sarovar Dam before it reaches the entry point of the main Narmada Canal. It is important to note that Narmada River is habitat of the crocodiles and the act of evacuating them will affect many other species (birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) existing in this ecosystem.
The capture and relocation of the crocodiles is being carried out hastily and mindlessly, without having any scientific or technical bases and strategic relocation plan. These acts also ignore the statutory procedures required for the relocation of scheduled species.
(1) The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
(2) Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
(3) The Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
(4) The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010.
The ‘Indian Crocodile Conservation Project’ was launched as early as the late 1960’s. Subsequently, the crocodile has been included in Appendix – I of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and brought under Schedule – I of ‘The Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972’, meaning that any activity which is against the survival of the highly protected species without having been approved by the State Wildlife Board / National Wildlife Board and the Government of India is patently illegal.
“S 33 (a): No construction of commercial lodges, hotels… shall be undertaken except with the prior approval of the National Board.
S 35 (6): No destruction, removal of wildlife or forest produce from a National Park or diversion of habitat unless State Government in consultation with the National Board authorizes the issue of such permit.” It is important to note here that the species is protected under ‘The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972’.
(1) “(16) “Hunting” with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions, includes:
(2) (a) Killing or poisoning of any wild animal or captive animal and every attempt to do so;
(3) (b) Capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving or baiting any wild or captive animal and every attempt to do so;
(4) (c) Injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body or any such animal or in the case of wild birds or reptiles, damaging the eggs or such birds or reptiles, or disturbing the eggs or nests of such birds or reptiles.”